As a child growing up, swapping football stickers and arguing over whose team was better was a daily occurrence on most British school playgrounds.
Other discussions included who had the best trainers, which decided your social status, depending on which brand you wore in P.E. In my school, if you sported Gola, Hi-Tec or Le Coq Sportif you were labelled a “scruff”. But if you wore Adidas, Nike, Umbro or Puma, you were more likely picked first when it came to deciding who was on whose team.
The reason I mention this is because these child-like discussions were often brought into football arguments.
Cast your minds back. You can no doubt remember an argument between two kids about their football teams and one would throw in an insult like “Yeah, but your kit is made by ‘X’ and they are rubbish”. Part of your team’s ‘coolness’ was judged by which manufacturer their kits were made by.
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Nike was always seen as the premium brand. Arsenal had them during their most successful Premier League era, while Manchester United started a long relationship with the American Giants in 2001 as they continued their global dominance under Sir Alex Ferguson.
More recently, Manchester City cashed in on their emergence as a football powerhouse after they won their first Premier League title, despite being in a 10-year deal with Umbro, owned by Nike.
I was born in 1985, so my earliest memories of watching Liverpool are all ’90s-related. As it was for so many people my age, we had to sit back and watch Manchester United win almost every year and put up with all the stick that went with it. Even when their kits were made by Nike and ours by Reebok, I was jealous. I wanted Nike. I associated that with ‘being the best’.
Manchester United were at the top of English football — both on the field and off the field.
If I could change one thing about Liverpool’s history, I would get in a DeLorean and go back to 1989. I would have a conversation with the board about how to commercialise the club. Get that Liver Bird and put it on absolutely everything. Put it on polo shirts, jackets, dog bowls. Hell, put it on ladies’ knickers!
That’s exactly what United did in the early ’90s and into the Premier League era. Football was changing and Liverpool fell asleep. They were rightly on that perch and thought that their football and recent history would keep them there.
But with the development of the Premier League and Sky injecting a fortune into it, Liverpool were going to be left behind. But United capitalised and branded themselves everywhere and put their badge on every piece of merchandise possible.
The rest is history as Manchester United became one of the most recognisable brands in the world. When Liverpool were declining in the ’90s, they switched to Reebok to make their kits. I will always be grateful as the 1996 ‘Ecru’ away shirt will always be up there as my favourite away shirt.
Then, as Liverpool became European Champions and began to be a bigger force in Europe, our old friends from Germany came back to supply the kits again. Adidas were back and so were Liverpool. The team was getting better and, between 2007 and 2010, Liverpool were a force in Europe and unlucky to not add another Champions League title as well as a first Premier League crown.
Cue the Hodgson era.
The decline was sharp and Adidas thought, ‘No, this isn’t for us, we’re off’. Underachievement on the pitch led to the German giants terminating the contract with the club. So, for those that moan about wanting Adidas, remember that they told us to do one as soon as the going got tough!
As you get older, you know that it’s all about money and whoever pays the most money to make the kit is the best deal. But there is still that stigma. Big brands produce big brands.
When Warrior took over in 2012, everyone was thinking, “Wow! No one wants us, who are these lot?” The playground insults were still thrown by adults, now on Twitter: “Warrior are a crap make and so are Liverpool.”
New Balance rebranding the kits to their more recognisable ‘NB’ logo was a step up in terms of shirt branding and a clever move commercially. Hence why it was done. But this was at a time when Liverpool were not yet the global powerhouse they are on the verge of becoming.
With Liverpool now European champions and pushing Manchester City in the league, there has never been a better time to cash in. The bigwigs at Nike aren’t daft — they can see that.
When Liverpool almost won the league in 2013/14, the club’s stock had risen. They had played beautiful and entertaining football and given the world a title race to watch. Say what you want, but this prompted EA Sports to add Jordan Henderson to the cover of FIFA 15. Liverpool had increased their brand presence and EA wanted a slice of it.
To most, FIFA is the more popular football game than PES. There’s no doubt about it. PES probably is the more realistic in terms of gameplay — it’s the footballer’s football game, but FIFA definitely has the global dominance. Liverpool were licensed to PES for many years until their Champions League triumph. Our No.4 now graces the FIFA 20 cover and Liverpool are heavily promoted in the game also. These are not coincidences.
If I mentioned the names Babe Ruth, Whitey Ford, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, some people may not have a clue who they are. But those same people will probably own a baseball cap with their team’s logo on it. The famous ‘NY’ logo of the New York Yankees has become a global brand in its own right.
Partnering with Nike is just the start for Liverpool and their journey to be a global powerhouse off the pitch as well as on it. Nike will put Liverpool in places they never dreamed of, commercially. Which will all come back into the club and help them on it. It will be very hard to fall away from this position.
Okay, United are not dominating football like they used to, but financially they are still good. It won’t take them 30 years to win another league title, although I hope it takes longer! PSG have done it too. They have partnered with Nike and ‘Jordan’ and they are selling some beautiful apparel.
I wrote a piece on FSG at the beginning of the season. It detailed the background on the deal and how no-one knew just how savvy our new owners were going to be. They have taken us from the brink of administration to probably partnering with the biggest sports brand in the world.
This cannot be taken for granted.
This is just the beginning for Liverpool and this period of hopefully significant dominance in world football. Let’s all enjoy it. My playground dreams have come true. Liverpool kits are going to be made by Nike!